Holy Toledo!

January 20, 2020

By Patricia Sampson, Stacey Stachow and Lilia Villasenor

We’ve all heard of Toledo, Ohio, but did you know that it’s named after the holy city of Toledo, Spain? Hence the expression: “Holy Toledo.”

Toledo in Spain is known as the “city of three cultures” because of the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews reflected in its history. The old city sits on top of a hill surrounded by the city wall and overlooks the plains of Castilla-La Mancha.


In 1986, Toledo was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, there are still excavations going on, but Toledo has become a bustling and quaint city. It’s a fascinating town and a center for Spanish tourism, which yearly hosts FARCAMA: Féria de Artesania de Castilla-La Mancha.

Last October, Stacey Stachow from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Lilia Villasenor from the International Rose Test Garden, and I took part in the Hosted Buyers Program of the Regional Handcrafts Show FARCAMA 2019 held in the historic city of Toledo, Spain. FARCAMA is sponsored by the Castilla-La Mancha government and the Foreign Trade and Investment Institute of Castilla-La Mancha (IPEX) and is the leading exhibition of handcraft artisans in the region. Each year, IPEX invites buyers from MSA to take part in their craft show and to learn more about how we shop gift markets. This year, the three of us were their invited delegates to the fair.

During our trip to FARCAMA, we had the opportunity to meet with many Spanish artisans in their studios. We went to Nava’s storefront in the old town of Toledo where we were educated on the traditional techniques of hand-embroidered silk shawls with fringe, which originated in the municipality of Lagartera. Our next visit was to the Anframa showroom. Founded in 1970 after a gathering of several Toledo craftsmen and damascene masters who wished to maintain the centenary tradition, Anframa has become a leader in the manufacturing of damascened articles.


Damascene is the technique of inlaying metal to metal using 18- and 24-carat gold foil and wire to create intricate designs. Building off the tradition of damascene is contemporary artist Oscar Martin Garrido, who is applying the traditional technique to contemporary subjects. His studio was very exciting to visit. We had the chance to see him work firsthand on a new work of art and had the opportunity to play with swords that he had created. Yes, sword making is going strong (and you need to be strong to lift them) in Toledo. We also visited Credansa Grupo, which reminded me of the Spanish version of Popcorn Custom Products and Museum Store Products rolled into one. They make lovely cork-back coasters and ceramic magnets and keychains among parts for airplanes. These were just the studios we visited, now let’s talk about FARCMA.

FARCAMA is a vibrant craft show of Spanish artists who make traditional crafts along with other items with contemporary flare. We saw handmade copper kettles, silk scarves, soap makers, jewelers, ceramics, swords, etc. They even had a furniture and food section where we were able to taste test olives, cheeses and vino. Many of the buyers were from different regions and countries. One of the interesting components of the show was that it’s open to the general public. Also, your purchases were packed in a shopping bag that had the FARCAMA logo. We thought this was a great marketing tool!

This was an amazing adventure, and we highly recommend everyone visit Toledo and FARCAMA if you ever have the chance. A couple of words of advice: Do your research and study up on your Spanish. We were fortunate to have our wonderful hosts, Jose, Armelle and Javier who translated for us during the day but explored on our own for dinner. It was a true adventure in an amazing city!


Patricia Sampson is the manager of retail shops and visual merchandising at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. She is a native of New York and attended Marist College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in fashion design and merchandising. Her career in for-profit retail began shortly after graduating college, when she went on to work as an assistant buyer for a resident buying office and then moved into department store retail. Patricia’s involvement with MSA began a year after joining The High. Her passion to give back to the MSA community lead her to a position on the regional board of the South Atlantic Chapter. She currently is on the MSA Board of Directors as Director at Large. Patricia also has served on many other MSA committees both at the national and local chapter level. Her other organizational involvements included the Speakers Bureau for the High Museum of Art, The Jennifer Keith Institute, AIDS Advocate for the American Red Cross, and she is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She also is an active member at Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral. Lastly, Patricia is an avid sports fan, volleyball being her favorite. She enjoys sewing, cooking and spending quality time with family and friends.


Lilia Villasenor stumbled into the museum world and found her way into museum stores when she received a grant from the Smithsonian in 1987. Upon moving to Oregon, she was presented with the challenge of building a museum store for the Portland Children’s Museum. No pay was promised, any profit would be split with the board and it basically was a volunteer position. The museum store was pleasantly rewarded with a profit the first year and while the job was enjoyable, a second child made it impossible to continue. After an eight-year hiatus, some of it spent teaching and in for-profit retail, she returned to manage the Oregon Historical Society Museum Store. She spent almost a decade there and became involved in MSA, first at the chapter level and then at the national level.
She accepted her current position at The International Rose Test Garden in 2008 and continues to believe that she truly did land in a bed of roses!


Stacey Stachow, is the manager of the museum shop at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

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